What are the six unique properties of language?


According to Professor George Yule, one of the world's leading applied linguists, the six unique properties of language are displacement, arbitrariness, productivity, discreteness, duality and cultural transmission. These design features, taken together, separate humans from all other creatures on the planet.

Displacement allows language users to talk about things not immediately present in time or space. Arbitrariness speaks of the fact that there is no logical connection between linguistic symbols and the meanings they convey. Productivity is the aspect of language that finds novel sounds, words and sentences being invented on a continuous basis.

Messages used to communicate can be made up of distinct smaller units that are combined and interpreted to represent linguistically specific meanings: this is denoted by the term discreteness. Duality refers to languages being simultaneously organized as distinct sounds on one level and distinct meanings on another. By reorganizing the same sounds in a different pattern, as happens when changing pin to nip, it is evident that meaningful elements are made up of smaller meaningless elements that are nonetheless message differentiating.

Cultural transmission acknowledges how language is learned by interacting with other more experienced speakers and not simply from parental genes. Though it is believed human beings are born with an innate predisposition to acquire language, it is obvious that no one is born speaking one specific language.

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